Scott Taylor

Superintendent , Kenilworth Public School District

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Don't look at critics for your truth!

One of the biggest mistakes I made as a novice leader was to allow my critics to influence my decisions and my vision. It took me a while to realize these people were in no position to inform me. They were people with an agenda who likely had self-centered reasons for criticizing my work.

I was compelled to revisit my early career weakness after reading part of actress Laura Linney's commencement speech at Julliard School's 2013 graduation ceremony:

"I hope you never give anyone the power to tell anyone how to feel about your own work. That is your responsibility alone. Critics are in a different profession than we are. Don’t look to them for your truth.”

Despite many hours in graduate classrooms and years of leadership experience (both good and bad), I still fight my emotions while trying not to let the critics get me down. I know it's a natural human response for many, but I've got to always remember not to look to others (who don't know what I know) for my "truth."

  • Jul 21 2013: If you want feedback, you must lead by example.

    TED is a great place to give feedback, and get feedback.

    In the conversations you host on TED, it would be nice if you came back and clicked on the red "Reply" button each time you are going to give an answer to a contributor's thoughts.

    Otherwise, they have to keep coming back and check on whether or not you read their contribution and replied to it.
    Some might not bother coming back, knowing that if you replied the correct way, "by hitting Reply".......an email alert will be sent to them.

    I hope you don't mind me pointing this out to you.

    You are not my boss, but I thought that you of all people, would appreciate my feedback.

    I'm I wrong?
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    Jul 20 2013: Juliette- Love your comments and am truly appreciative you shared these links with me. I am familiar with Sir Ken but do not know Pierson and Hunter yet.
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    Jul 20 2013: Thanks for the positive reinforcement Colleen!
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      Jul 20 2013: Positive reinforcement is a pleasure Scott....thanks for the feedback:>)

      Are you aware that you can click on the little red "reply" in the upper right corner of a comment, and respond directly, rather than going back to the top of the comment thread? This feature serves to keep the conversation in sequence:>)
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    Jul 20 2013: I agree! I pointed out to one of my graduate students recently that I work hard to identify (as quickly as possible) the subordinates and peers with whom I can trust. These are usually people I recognize, to the best of my ability, not to be so insecure as to seek satisfaction in criticizing me for the sake of making themselves feel better.
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    Lejan .

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    Jul 20 2013: And what if your truth is wrong? How is corrective information ever reaching you if you harden up against it?

    If it was just about you or me, it wouldn't matter, but what about the people you are leading?

    I quit two of my former jobs, because of those 'bullet proof' role model leader types to find out later, that the aspects of my criticism did turn into reality ...

    Whom do you consider, if anyone, to be in 'position to inform' you? Are we talking only up or also down the pecking order?

    You yourself, anyone, is likely to have 'an agenda who likely has self-centered reasons for his/hers work (truth)'.

    So if nothing reaches you, how do you stay 'connected' and thereby 'corrected'?

    Do the people you are leading follow you because of your lead, or because they have to... ? On this I consider almost all regular employees to the 'have to' category of 'followers', which is empirical data of my personal working experience.

    In case, the people are following you freely because of your lead, I would say, that 'doing your own truth' would have a dynamically adjusted balance, as there is no 'need' or 'pressure' for your 'followers' to stay if they disagree with your 'truth'.

    In case of the 'usual' employees, there is little to no chance for any balance to form, and this because of the usual motives of 'unemployment' as one of little other alternatives, especially at times like this ...

    I have seen many leaders fail in earning the loyalty of their people. To many for my liking, and all those failing leaders had one thing in common: they failed to listen, they failed to communicate (both ways) and they didn't allow for critics...

    So how do you ensure for information, and criticism is information, to sink into your truth to alter it?

    I have to add that I am not quite certain if 'criticism' in English has the same 'neutral' notion than it has in my native language German, even though often but falsely interpreted in 'negative' notion... But here I mean it (+) and (-).
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    Jul 20 2013: Hi Scott,
    I think/feel that "know thyself" is the best policy:>)

    We get information from many different sources throughout the life adventure, and it's important to be aware of the source of information, weigh it as it might pertain to us, and use it either to learn more about ourselves, or perhaps to learn about the person providing the information. If we are willing and able to be open minded, and open hearted about receiving information, we can discover our own truth, and like you insightfully say...."remember not to look to others...for my truth"....well said!
  • Jul 21 2013: Agreed we must create our own truths about what we do. I would also we should listen to critics with a grain of salt and integrate their comments into our truths or reject it but it should be our choice.
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    Jul 20 2013: I wish more people (including my subordinates) were more willing to provide feedback.The problem I sometimes have is that my subordinates do not want to give me feedback (even anonymous). As one veteran principal recently said, "Scott, I'm from a generation of administrators that did not grow up giving bosses feedback."
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      Jul 23 2013: One reason this happens, I think, is that people are used to hearing people claim to accept negative feedback (from peers or employees) who then demonstrate by their actions or anger that they do not, in fact, consider such feedback or do but hold a grudge forever after.
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    Jul 20 2013: Dear Scott;

    The task of guiding and shaping the lives of children towards their best future has never been so formidable as it is now. I commend you on being so consciously aware of your role.

    It is so incredibly important at this time for leaders in education to be able to develop new visions. We have entered the biggest transformation age in the history of humanity. This means more and different curricula for students and more and different education for teachers.

    I hope you are able to create regular gatherings of your teachers to sit together and study TED talks.

    Here are some leaders in whom I have found great inspiration:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/rita_pierson_every_kid_needs_a_champion.html

    http://www.ted.com/talks/john_hunter_on_the_world_peace_game.html

    http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigms.html
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    Jul 20 2013: A wonderful point Deepak. I should think more about your idea that "you forget to look at God..." when examining my own practice and considering the feedback I receive from others!
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    Jul 20 2013: Great points Lejan. Here is a reply I provided one of my Rutgers University graduate students when she posed the same question-

    "This is a great question because it speaks to the need to be willing to self-reflect in the face of criticism that is perceived to be genuine. I know I can trust my friends (and family) and usually those with whom I have developed a strong professional relationship based on mutual respect. These are the folks from who I will accept criticism sincerely."
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      Jul 21 2013: Looks like you already have a predefined answering catalog in the Q&A section of 'your truth', as most of the questions I rose stayed ignored ...

      Your answer reads more like a 'copy & paste' action to me, using some minutes or memos of yours, instead of reflecting on what I actually wrote ...

      Please use the 'Reply' option for a direct response, as it triggers an e-mail notifier to the person you are addressing.
  • Jul 20 2013: I find your criticism of critics is a tad hypocritical.
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    Jul 19 2013: It is, as you say, important to listen to feedback of all kinds and to develop judgment about how insightful particular pieces of feedback are. Sometimes the most passionate critics do not really understand the terrain well. Sometimes, in contrast, they are on to something.
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    Jul 19 2013: I don't think you are alone in your personal history Scott but the best bets are those that have been through it, whatever it was.
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    Jul 19 2013: This is why we have to "keep on keepin' on!"
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    R H

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    Jul 19 2013: It's interesting isn't it, how 'the truth will set you free', but also get you fired? No matter how legitimate our stance on an issue, no matter what 'position' we hold in the hierarchy, our 'truth' could get us in a lonely room, righteously indignant about the injustice while looking out the same window day after day - with no one listening anymore.